Subversion in the UDR. Secret documents reveal: The Downing Street link/ Soldiers armed loyalists

THE British government was aware of large-scale collusion between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries from as early as 1973, according to documents revealed today in the Irish News. The files show Downing Street knew that significant numbers of soldiers were linked to loyalist paramilitaries, but failed to act. The collusion file contains a detailed report on 'Subversion in the UDR' including estimates of the numbers of soldiers linked to loyalists - while intelligence documents show how more than 200 British army rifles and sub machine guns were passed to loyalists.

This is the first time evidence has emerged to show, not only the scale of collusion, but also that government was aware of it early in the Troubles.

The documents reveal that military intelligence:

- estimated 5-15 per cent of UDR soldiers were linked to loyalist paramilitaries
- believed that the ``best single source of weapons, and the only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant extremist groups was the UDR''
- feared UDR troops were loyal to 'Ulster' rather than 'Her Majesty's Government'
- knew that UDR weapons were being used in the murder and attempted murder of Catholics

Against this background it is significant that as the Troubles unfolded, the government went on to increase, rather than decrease, the regiment's role in areas of high tension in Northern Ireland. The files date from August 1973 - and in the two years that followed UDR members took part in the Miami showband massacre, and were linked to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings that killed 33 people.

The UDR - or Ulster Defence Regiment - was formed in 1970 to replace the disgraced B Specials police reserve, but nationalists came to see it as a carbon copy. The new regiment, which was the largest in the British army, recruited exclusively in Northern Ireland and eventually became almost 100 per cent Protestant. It was merged with another military unit in 1992 to form the Royal Irish Regiment - but it also attracted controversy and its Northern Ireland battalions are now being disbanded.

While the new documents concentrate on the UDR, they also include files that show senior political figures making disturbing references to wrong-doing within the ranks of the RUC. The Irish News has had exclusive access to the documents and over two days of special reports will reveal the content of the files which - for the first time - form a paper trail stretching from murder on the streets of Belfast, to decision making at No10 Downing Street. The UDR saw 257 members and former members killed by republican paramilitaries, and in today's coverage a UDR veteran recalls her memories of death and terrible injury.

On the new intelligence files, she says that if the British government knew of wrongdoing, "they should have done something''. The new documents were discovered by campaigners probing allegations of security force collusion in the murder of their loved ones. The son of one victim recounts uncovering the collusion files, and tells The Irish News: "It was quite alarming to find that the British government at the highest level knew, as they put it themselves, that there was `subversion within the UDR'.

"They knew that it went as far as getting guns for loyalists, and involvement in murder.''